P.O.V.ey: What’s the deal with pre-season?

Pre-season is like Marmite. Some players love it, others hate it. Personally, I’m a little bit on the fence about the whole affair. There’s definitely been pre-seasons which pushed me as a player, and certainly helped me in the season’s opening games, but other times, its felt like a bit of a waste of time. Taking into account the P.O.V from both sides of the Marmite/pre-season battle lines, I’ve written this read about my views on pre-season, and what I think players and coaches should do to really make it worthwhile.

Like my last article, I’ve decided to divide up the different areas of pre-season, so that I can try and think about each bit in more detail. I’ve shared my point of view, but I also had a think about the way my previous coaches, managers and fellow players saw certain aspects, to give a bit of a broader picture (and to not take sides!)

As always, if you’re a player or a coach and have any other advice that you’d like to add, or even if you’d just like to declare whether you’re a pre-season lover or hater, either pop it in the comments or tweet me @LishaPovs, to get the conversation going!

The Fun of Fitness

I think that when a lot of people think of pre-season, they think fitness. Fair enough, fitness is a pretty important part of any footballers success, but in my opinion, pre-season shouldn’t just be about getting fit. The dreaded Bleep Test is not (in my humble opinion) going to help me score more goals. Nor will long-distance running help with the start/stop nature of a striker’s matchday experience.

Clubs that focus solely on fitness during pre-season are a conundrum to me. I’ve been to pre-seasons where we’ve done fitness session after fitness session, and barely touched a football. Conversely, I’ve played for a team whose pre-season was all ball-work focussed with no fitness in sight. I think that during pre-season, the ratio of fitness to ball work should be about 30% (fitness) to 70% (football).

Summer is also arguably the time that people are most motivated to go out and exercise themselves, and if it is made clear by the coaches that they expect players to be doing their own fitness, I think that’s fair. If I know that I won’t make it into the starting line-up without doing some running and gym work in my own time, then I will make the effort to do enough.

Verdict: Pre-season fitness is necessary, but should be made more of an individual responsibility. Don’t prioritise running over ball work. Strike the right balance! N.B. It’s completely okay to be absolutely knackered and red in the face during pre-season, we can’t all look like the model in the above photo! Do the amount of fitness that is right for you!

The mystical PSF

I like a pre-season friendly as much as the next person. It’s great to get back out on the pitch and test yourself against some different opposition, and especially after moving clubs, it’s also the perfect opportunity to start learning about how your teammates play, and what to expect from them for the coming season.

However, although I love a good PSF, I think that a lot of teams and players put too much emphasis on results, and not enough on development and trying new things. Pre-season is the only time that a player can try a new position, or a manager can give a new formation a go, without the fear of it going wrong and costing all-important points.

It was at some point in a pre-season friendly when I was 12 or 13 that I was moved from a right-back to a striker, and I’ve never looked back. Trying new things is definitely a good thing, both individually and as a team!

Going back to my previous verdict on fitness, pre-season friendlies can also build on what you’ve been working on in the off-season; your endurance, pace or maybe your strength and conditioning. It’s one thing to be able to run 10k without too much huffing and puffing, but it’s another thing to be able to run doggies when the ball is going end-to-end during a match.

Finally, as a player that’s moving to a new club (again!) I would have really valued playing in more pre-season friendlies. I played in one with Woodley United, who I have now signed with, but due to holidays and not having moved house yet, I haven’t been able to play any more. The PSF I took part in gave me a good idea of how my new teammates play, whether they like the ball at their feet or a cheeky through ball, if they can bash in a header from a high cross or like to slot in from a low one… You learn so much from 90 minutes with a new team. So, in that regard, pre-season friendlies can really help settle in, as well as to start the important process of gelling with your team, new and old signings alike.

Verdict: So, maybe pre-season friendly results aren’t the be all and end all, but it can help exponentially with fitness, and is perhaps the only time to try new things. You never know, you might be the next Rapinoe, but you’ve been playing in goal your whole life! Linking perfectly to my next point about pre-season, these friendlies, and pre-season in general, are also vital in building up team morale and welcoming new faces.

Teams that play together, stay together

No, for once, I’m not talking about playing football, I’m talking about the out-of-football social aspect. Having a team that is clique free and get on when they step off the pitch can have a massive impact on the success of the squad. Teams that focus on this aspect of team-building during pre-season are definitely an example to follow in my opinion.

Last season, I played for Almondsbury FC Women in Bristol. A great bunch of girls from lots of different backgrounds, but what made it a special team, was the team spirit (cheesy, I know). Gary, the manager, put in so much effort to make every single player welcome, and the team took part in boot-camp style team building this pre-season, alongside the more traditional training and friendlies. Although this might not be every players’ cup of tea, it’s nice to know that your teammates have your back, not just on the pitch.

Pre-season should be the time that the team gets to know each other, and that the coaching team and captain work to quash any tensions, lone-ranger ideologies or moaners within the team. From my experience, teams that spend time together off the pitch, and who know each others strengths aside from football, are more likely to be successful in their season. Also, and very importantly, this kind of team is much more healthy to be part of than a ‘team’ of individuals who want nothing to do with each other outside of the sport.

Verdict: Team bonding is something that, in my experience, is overlooked during pre-season, but can be vital. Creating an environment where everyone supports each other and gets on will boost morale on match-days, encourage attendance at training, and will just make the club a more enjoyable and welcoming place to be. So, any coaches out there, follow in Gary’s footsteps and book a team boot-camp, go on a team night-out or host a BBQ, you’ll be surprised what a difference an afternoon can make to team relationships!

So, pre-season, what’s the deal?

Pre-season has the potential to be like the Marmite debate; love/hate, but it doesn’t have to be. With a bit of individual fitness work, some enjoyable, low pressure pre-season friendlies as well as some emphasis on creating a supportive team environment, pre-season can be enjoyable!

As always, tweet me @LishaPovs with your thoughts/ opinions on the issue, and any advice you have as to what has or hasn’t worked for you during pre-season! I’m always interested to hear what you have to say, and if it helps other players and coaches, that’s a bonus!